Violence is easy. Peace is hard. Fear can be triggered in a moment, but trust must be built, painstakingly. Violence begets violence, whereas trust must be cultivated with patience, faith and courage. Resolve and compassion are not mutually exclusive.
To react in anger is to be weak. To channel anger constructively, or to vent it without hurting anyone, makes room for understanding.
Terrorists do not spring from a vacuum, they are born of perceived injustice. It is not hard to find plausible reasons for militant Islamists’ perception of injustice. These injustices don’t justify violence against innocent people, but only by addressing genuine injustices can we break the cycle of violence.
Osama bin Laden turned to terrorism in reaction to the autocratic and oppressive rule of the Saudi royal family, which the United States props up in return for access to Saudi oil. The democratically elected Mossadegh government of Iran was overthrown in 1953, with CIA and British connivance, and the compliant Shah of Iran reinstalled. His combination of autocracy and exploitation eventually spawned the 1979 radical Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. That regime in turn was named one of George W. Bush’s fanciful ‘axis of evil’ nations.
Before Saddam Hussein made the mistake of invading Kuwait in 1990, he was actively supported by the US. His tyrannical ways were no different then than later, when we were told that ‘regime change’ in Iraq was imperative to world peace and security. Behind the lies about Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and his non-existent links to Osama bin Laden is the lie that Iraq was invaded to bring democracy to Iraq and the Middle East.
Judged by its actions, democracy has simply been irrelevant to US foreign policy. It has supported democracies (in Europe) and overthrown democracies (Iran, Congo, Chile, Nicaragua). It has supported tyrants (Saddam, Saudis, Pinochet and many more) and overthrown tyrants (Saddam, Noriega).
Indonesia is not in the Middle East, although it is a Moslem nation and a former colony of a European nation. Moreover the 1965 miliary overthrow of nationalist President Soekarno, in which the CIA was complicit, was the bloodiest of the twentieth century, with about half a million people, mostly peasants, murdered. The coup installed the elitist, repressive but pro-Western Suharto regime, which eventually collapsed under the weight of its own corruption in 1998.
Australia’s UN-sponsored intervention in East Timor in 1999 was in my view justified by the need to protect the population from violence, but it certainly fanned long-standing anti-Western and anti-Christian resentments. Australia’s subsequent bellicose championing of the illegal invasion of Iraq further fanned and focussed these resentments.
Even in a better world, Australia would be unlikely always to agree with Indonesia, as the East Timor episode illustrates. However in a better world, the US would apply some of its founding principles to its foreign policy, instead of just pursuing the brute self interest of its power elite. In a better world, Australia would apply its own value of a fair go to its international relations, and would distance itself from the excesses of its putative allies.
It would take courage for an Australian leader to stand in the face of justified outrage at the Bali and Jakarta bombings and to accept responsibility for our own inglorious part in creating the dispossesion and alienation that feed terrorism.
We know John Howard does not possess such strength of character, nor such courage. Do any of those who aspire to lead us? Do we, each one of us, possess the courage to resist the urge for revenge, and to support a leader who has the courage to pursue the hard road to peace?
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